Thursday, March 21, 2013

I'm Trapping the Damn Leprechaun and You Can't Stop Me

In the past few days, quite a few of my Facebook friends have posted Kristen Howerton's blog post from Rage Against the Minivan-- a mini-screed entitled Can We Take the Holidays Down a Notch? She opens with an anecdote about her children's desire for a "leprechaun trap," to which she responds (to her readership), "Are you serious?" She goes on to cite children's increasingly amped-up expectations for holidays, and to call for a general drawdown of the celebratory craziness surrounding them.

With all due respect to Ms. Howerton (and much is due, because on some level I feel her pain)-- I must object.

Above is a photo of my children a couple of years ago, constructing a rather elaborate leprechaun trap. We have made them every year for-- well, I don't even know how long, but since long before "Pinterest" was a word. We still haven't caught the little twerp, but every year he drops his gold before he escapes, leaving my kids with a respectable stash of Rolos, chocolate coins, and Werther's caramels. We also celebrate Pi Day, and have an Easter egg hunt in our backyard complete with a Golden Egg that involves extra shopping and (inevitably) some losing child's tears, and have a watermelon seed-spitting contest in our driveway on the Fourth of July. With respect to the holiday stories my kids tell their friends, if you want to take it down a notch, I am the enemy.

Plus, not only do we celebrate Christmas with all suitable shock and awe, but we also celebrate St. Nicholas Day, which is where the kids put out their boots by the fireplace on December 5 and awaken to find them filled with candy, little Santa-themed toys, and new hats and gloves. We've done that for more than a decade-- since my 15-year-old, James, was a preschooler. Their friends think it's awesome, and beg their parents to do the same.

It wasn't like this when I was a kid, that's for sure. For one thing, my family was Jewish, and although I enjoyed Passover, I spent the month of March paging longingly through the J.C. Penney circulars in the Sunday Washington Post, cutting out pictures of girls in Easter dresses with little gloves and hats and playing with them like paper dolls. You can imagine the near-fatal case of Christmas envy I suffered every year. While I don't defend my covetousness, it wouldn't take a degree in psychiatry to figure out why I grew up to be a mom who cranks every once-forbidden holiday to Eleven.

But this isn't just about me and my unruly inner child. There are other, perfectly valid reasons why I think it is a perfectly fantastic idea to celebrate every special day in epic style.

This is my 15-year-old, James. He's the healthiest kid in the world. Last Fall he woke up one morning feeling dizzy. The next day I took him to the pediatrician, who sent us straight to the ER. By the time the neurologist assessed him an hour or so later, he couldn't walk anymore, or turn over in bed without vomiting from dizziness. His eyes jumped around when the neurologist pointed a light at them. She told us it was probably a brain tumor. If not, it was likely a meningitis-like swelling in his cerebellum, and he would be admitted to the ICU. The sentence she used was, "I believe we are witnessing a significant event."

I didn't want a significant event. Not this kind.

In a matter of hours, our life had swung from happiness and predictability to the absolute and terrifying unknown. My baby, my firstborn, had transformed from the sibling-wrestling, pancake-making, "Burn Notice"-obsessed kid I knew to a rapidly deteriorating, profoundly ill neurological patient. Because my sister had passed away at age 11 from a brain stem tumor, I knew all too well what James was likely facing, and what his siblings would be facing as well from the upheaval this would cause. My husband and I were beside ourselves. It was the worst day, and somehow it felt like a day I had always feared would come: when my wonderful child, who I had always suspected I didn't deserve, would be taken back. 

Over the next two days they expedited his MRI, and then his second, contrast MRI, and then his spinal tap. He got sicker and sicker, but one by one they kept eliminating the possibilities: first, it wasn't a brain tumor, and then it wasn't meningitis either. They decided it was probably viral, and started talking about eventually discharging him to a nursing home, where he would re-learn how to walk. Then his headache got really bad, and they put him on a bunch of IV drugs, and a few hours later he stood up and walked to the bathroom, then asked if they could send in the video game cart.

Discharge diagnosis: one major MF-er of a migraine.

His four days in the hospital were, in the end, the most incredible gift. My husband and I had stared down the barrel of what it would look like if our lives were turned absolutely upside-down by something terrible happening to one of our children, and as a result saw the fragility and precious beauty of ordinary life. During that time I realized: we are not promised a single day. Every single day we wake up and things are ordinary, and fine, and normal, is an act of grace.

Since then, when I have a lousy day-- checks not arriving, fights on the internet, dogs creating more messes than my toddlers ever did, obnoxious relatives making trouble-- I'll step back and think, "James doesn't have a brain tumor. Today is a GREAT day." Maybe it's a little bit Pollyanna of me, but it puts it in perspective to think about what March 21, 2013 might have been like, if the universe hadn't grabbed us by the collar and then slowly lowered us to the ground.


Catch the damn leprechaun. Because inevitably, no matter how carefully you arrange your life and how thoughtfully you raise your kids, there are going to be days where there's not one thing worthy of celebration. There are going to be days that suck. An ordinary day is a fantastic day. But a day that gives you an excuse to hand out the sugar, have fun as a family, and take a break that leaves everyone exhilarated and smiling?

Kick it up a notch. Celebrate like there's no tomorrow. You won't regret it.